Friday, January 27, 2012

Former Cornell Assistant Settles in at B.C.

Many people think college basketball coaches have it made. The casual college hoops fan thinks that an assistant coach's job description is to watch basketball 24/7 and get paid for it. What's better than that? While the job certainly has its perks--- especially once your reach a BCS-level school---few people ever hear about the work that's put in to try and get to a high level of coaching. Some never even break past the low-level DI jobs. BC Assistant Head Coach Nat Graham, is one of the fortunate coaches out there who worked his way up through the ranks, and eventually landed a high profile job at the Heights.

Graham played college ball himself, lettering at Penn for two years whenSteve Donahue was an assistant there, and then finishing up at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating, Graham spent two years playing ball overseas until he decided to give coaching a try.

"My wife is Canadian, so I was living up there while she was going to school. I had been coaching everything. I did high school for a while but that got frustrating because of the commitment level. It wasn't like coaching St. Benedicts or something. I started coaching college ball up in Canada and the year before I went to Cornell I was coaching at University of Toronto," explained Graham. "Steve and I stayed in touch for a long time. I made mild overtures about being an assistant coach a few times to him. He brought me down and interviewed me one or two times before he gave me the job."

Graham got the job as Donahue's third assistant at Cornell. While Graham was ecstatic to get a chance at coaching at the DI level it came with a price. In the Ivy League, the third assistant receives exactly $0.00, a price that shows which coaches really are driven to coach. Often times the third assistant in the Ivy League has to pick up a part-time job to get by, and Graham was no exception.

"I was opening a fitness center at 5:30AM, and then I'd come in to the office at noon. There were some late nights coaching so I'd be falling asleep at the desk at the health center sometimes," laughed Graham reminiscing. "Steve was always good about it though. He's very consciences' of the coaches in that situation."

Graham admits that it was a grind at times.

"My wife was finishing up school and living just outside of Toronto, so she was working part time. I was living in New York so we weren't making a lot of money and living in two different places. It was tough but I knew at that point this is what I wanted to do. I knew I was going to get paid eventually but the question was when," said Graham.

Shortly after Graham's first year at Cornell he caught a break. One of Donahue's assistants and now the Director of Basketball Ops at BC, Izzy Metz, ended up becoming a head coach for his alma mater at Hobart, and Graham got bumped up. Six years is now in his 7th year working for Donahue, and enjoys every moment.

Odds and Ends

Did you have any fear that you wouldn't come to BC with Donahue when he took the job?

Graham: I knew he was going to take me if he went somewhere. I also knew he wasn't going to leave for a lot of places and wasn't sure if he'd ever leave Cornell. Steve wants a certain type of environment and he wants to coach a certain type of kids. In a lot of ways he's not right for a school where you need a slick salesmen type and might need to recruit kids with a lot of issues. He's just not the right guy for that. He also didn't want to take the middle step up for a job that's considered a little better league, but might still be an only one bid league. We had a good thing going at Cornell

Once I heard BC got involved I had a feeling we would be going there if Steve got the job. It fit the description of what he was looking for.

How much has your job changed since getting bumped to Assistant Head Coach?

Graham: I don't know how much it has changed. There's not necessarily a hierarchy you feel when you work with coach. Being with him for so long I feel like I understand the type of kids he wants, the way he wants to defend, the way he wants to play offense, everything. In some ways I was kind of leaned on more because of that history. I think the biggest thing was Joe having been a head coach was extremely vocal in practice so I'm working on that.

Fans have noticed that you are pretty vocal during the game, even more so than many other assistants out there. Coach Donahue seems to be comfortable with you doing that

Graham: Our basketball philosophies are extremely similar. In the game situations there are rarely any times where Coach Donahue surprises me in what he's thinking because I've been with him for a few years. I might see some stuff that he's not seeing because he's so involved and so invested, or it might be a situation where he's talking to the refs and I notice something going on.

It's no secret that some of the best recruits are sitting in your backyard playing ball at local prep schools. How big of an advantage is this for you

Graham: There's absolutely an advantage if for nothing else than we can see these kids so much easier. You get 7 times to evaluate and contact and those are easy evaluations and contacts for us. That's a huge advantage. Cornell was so hard because it was like 4 hours from anything. You were spending a whole day going to a game. Here you can go to your team's practice and still get out and go to a prep game or two. Trying to get guys to your campus is a lot easier when they are right here and that's a big deal as well. There seems to be a good amount of local talent staying home and playing at the local prep schools, and that's huge as well because this is where they are from.

No comments: